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Thatcher Demko and J.T. Miller test positive for COVID-19 ahead of Canucks homestand

The Canucks might be playing their three-game homestand without two of their best players.
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Thatcher Demko might miss some time for the Vancouver Canucks as both he and centre J.T. Miller have tested positive for COVID-19.

It's been 37 days since the Vancouver Canucks last played a home game but they'll finally return to Rogers Arena on Friday night.

Only, they might be taking the ice without their number one goaltender and their leading scorer.

Thatcher Demko and J.T. Miller were absent from the Canucks' practice on Thursday. According to Sportsnet's Dan Murphy, they were absent because both of them tested positive for COVID-19 that morning.

The positive results came from rapid tests administered prior to practice and Murphy reported that the team is waiting for results from their PCR tests. If those results are also positive, Demko and Miller will enter the NHL's COVID protocol and be unavailable to the Canucks for a minimum of five days.

False positives are possible from rapid tests, though they are rare. One Canadian study found that 0.05 per cent of rapid tests produce false positives, though many were linked to one faulty batch of tests from one manufacturer.

If Demko and Miller are unavailable for five days, they could potentially miss all three games on their upcoming homestand. That would be a difficult blow for the Canucks lineup, particularly since the team already has four other players in the NHL's COVID protocol.

That includes backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who tested positive on January 15, potentially forcing the Canucks to go with their third-string goaltender. Five days have now passed since Halak's positive test, so he would be eligible to return to the Canucks lineup with a negative test according to the NHL's protocol, but the border situation complicates things. 

Halak, along with Bo Horvat, Conor Garland, and Ashton Sautner, tested positive while in the U.S. and the rules for returning to Canada are more strict. The Canucks had difficulties bringing Brock Boeser, Justin Dowling and Phil Di Giuseppe back into Canada in a timely manner after they tested positive for COVID-19 while in the U.S. in December.

"I hope it’s in the year 2022 at some point," said Bruce Boudreau ruefully when asked when he expects those four players to return to the lineup.

According to Postmedia's Patrick Johnston, the Canucks intend to keep Halak, Horvat, Garland, and Sautner in the U.S. for 11 days past their positive tests. That means Halak, who tested positive first, wouldn't be back until January 26, after the the Canucks' three-game homestand, with the other three players returning even later.

Without Demko or Halak, the Canucks would need to turn to one of Mikey DiPietro or Spencer Martin, both of whom were at practice on Thursday.

DiPietro is the Canucks' top goaltending prospect but he has just one NHL start under his belt, a disastrous game back in 2019 under emergency conditions. While DiPietro's game has improved by leaps and bounds since then, he has struggled in the AHL this season with the Abbotsford Canucks, with an .896 save percentage.

Martin has just three games of NHL experience and they came back in the 2016-17 season with the Colorado Avalanche. He's been better in the AHL this season than DiPietro, with a .921 save percentage.

With Horvat already out, if Miller misses time on the NHL's COVID protocol, that will stretch the Canucks' depth at centre to its limit. At practice on Thursday, the Canucks had Sheldon Dries centring the second line between Justin Dowling and Vasily Podkolzin.

Dries has been very good for Abbotsford this season, with 14 goals and 25 points in 25 games. The undersized centre has never been able to translate his scoring to the NHL, however, with just 6 points in 48 career games. 

Without Miller, Horvat, and Garland, the Canucks would be missing all three of their top-scoring forwards.

Frustrations have bubbled around the NHL with the COVID-19 testing procedure, with many players, coaches, and management calling for the league to stop testing asymptomatic people. According to multiple reports, the NHL and NHLPA have agreed to stop testing asymptomatic players and staff after the All-Star break. Teams will still be required to test when crossing the border.